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SOUTH OF EUROPE.
Continuation of Lope de Vega.
Ir is not merely on his own account that our farther attention is directed to the poet whom Spain has designated as the phoenix of men of genius. Lope de Vega merits our attention still more, as having exhibited and displayed the spirit of his own age, and as having powerfully influenced the taste of succeeding centuries. After a long interruption to the dramatic art, and a silence of fifteen hundred years, on the theatres of Greece and Rome, Europe was suddenly surprised with the renewal of theatrical representations, and turned to them with delight. In every quarter the drama now revived; the eyes as well
as the mind sought a gratification in the charms of poetry, and genius was required to give to its creations action and life. In Italy, tragedy had been already cultivated by Trissino, Rucellai, and their imitators, during the whole of the sixteenth century, but without obtaining any brilliant success or attracting the admiration of the spectators; and it was solely during the period which corresponds to the life of Lope de Vega, (1562-1635) that the only dramatic attempts of which Italy has reason to boast before those of Alfieri, appeared. The Amyntas of Tasso was published in 1572; the Pastor Fido in 1585; and the crowd of pastoral dramas which seemed to be the only representation adapted to the national taste of a people deprived of their independence, and of all military glory, were composed in the years which preceded or immediately followed the commencement of the seventeenth century. In England, Shakspeare was born two years after Lope de Vega, and died nineteen years before him, (1564-1616). His powerful genius raised the English theatre, which had its birth a few years before, from a state of extreme barbarism, and bestowed on it all the renown which it possesses. In France, Jodelle, who is now regarded as a rude author, had given to French tragedy those rules and that spirit which she has preserved in her maturity, even before the birth of Lope de Vega (1532 to 1573).
Garnier, who was the first to polish it, was a contemporary of Lope. The great Corneille, born in 1606, and Rotrou, born in 1609, attained to manhood before the death of Lope. Rotrou had, before that event, given eleven or twelve pieces to the theatre; but Corneille did not publish the Cid until a year after the death of the great Spanish dramatist. In the midst of this universal devotion to dramatic poetry, we may well imagine the astonishment and surprise produced by one who seemed desirous of satisfying himself the theatrical wants of all Europe; one whose genius was never exhausted in touching and ingenious invention; who produced comedies in verse with more ease than others wrote sonnets; and who, during the period that the Castilian tongue was in vogue, filled at one and the same moment, with pieces of endless variety, all the theatres of the Spanish dominions, and those of Milan, Naples, Vienna, Munich, and Brussels. The influence which he could not win from his age by the polish of his works, he obtained by their number. He exhibited the dramatic art as he had conceived it, in so many different manners, and under so many forms, to so many thousands of spectators, that he naturalized and established a preference for his style, irrevocably decided the direction of Spanish genius in the dramatic art, and obtained over the foreign stage a considerable influence. It is felt in the
plays of Shakspeare and of his immediate successors; and is to be traced in Italy during the seventeenth century, but more particularly in France, where the great Corneille formed himself on the Spanish school; where Rotrou, Quinault, Thomas Corneille, and Scarron, gave to the stage scarcely any other than pieces borrowed from Spain; and where the Castilian names and titles and manners were for a long time in exclusive possession of the theatre.
The pieces of Lope de Vega are seldom read; they have not, to my knowledge, been translated, and they are rarely met with in detached collections of Spanish plays. The original edition of his pieces is to be found only in two or three of the most celebrated libraries in Europe. It is, therefore, necessary to regard more closely a man who attained such eminent fame; who exercised so powerful and durable an influence not only over his native country, but over all Europe, and over ourselves; and with whom we have, nevertheless, little acquaintance, and whom we know only by name. I am aware that extracts from pieces, often monstrous, and always rudely sketched, may probably disgust readers who seek rather the masterpieces of literature than its rude materials; and I feel, too, that the prodigious
* There is a copy in the Bibliothèque Royale at Paris, but the fifth and sixth volumes are wanting.